Gove’s guru outlines risks of academies programme

Janet Downs's picture
Michael Gove admires Andreas Schleicher, deputy director for education at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Gove has described him as “the most important man in English Education.”

But Schleicher, speaking exclusively to TES, said the academies programme carried risks:

1 Less cooperation between schools.

2 A widening achievement gap between schools.

According to TES, Schleicher has a “nuanced” view of academies. He acknowledged there were “several challenges”:

1 Ensuring ideas were shared.

2 Bringing the most talented teachers into challenging classrooms.

3 Encouraging the best principals to lead tough schools.

Schleicher thought there would be innovation if the academy programme worked positively. But the Academies Commission found that most things an academy can do, a maintained school can also do. It wasn’t necessary to be an academy in order to innovate.

“There’s also the question whether you can counter the trend towards growing disparities that is inherently linked with such a choice,” Schleicher said. The words “inherently linked” are illuminating. Schleicher appeared to be admitting that the “choice” which supposedly accrues from the academies programme has an inbuilt tendency towards widening inequality.

Gove’s plans for performance-related pay received a cautious welcome from Schleicher. He said similar systems had been introduced in countries such as Sweden which connected career progression with responsibilities linked to pay. Nevertheless, he admitted there wasn’t any clear evidence that introducing performance-related pay into schools had any benefit. The Sutton Trust endorsed this: “Performance pay has been tried on a number of occasions, however the evidence of impact on student learning does not support the approach.”

Schleicher shared concerns that PISA evidence had been used selectively. He said it was now possible to “statistically account for 85% of performance variation in schools” and it would be more difficult to make claims that were not backed by evidence. I do not share Schleicher’s confidence that it will become harder to misrepresent data. If the data is hidden or twisted, or if warnings about its use are ignored, then people will not know they are being deceived especially if the distortion is publicized by a compliant media.

Politicians and union leaders should come together for the annual international summit on the teaching profession, said Schleicher. Last year, the ex-skills minister, John Hayes, attended. But Gove has no plans to go.

So, will Gove listen to his guru’s advice? If past evidence is anything to go by, he won’t. Instead, he is likely to continue promoting the line that academy conversion is absolutely necessary to improve results especially for the disadvantaged. Except that it isn’t.

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